Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever: 5 Key Differences

Written by August Buck
Published: March 31, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Prystai
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While they may look similar upon first glance, there are many differences between the Irish Setter vs golden retriever. Both of these dog breeds are extremely popular for a variety of different reasons, but what separates them from one another and what makes them unique?

In this article, we will compare and contrast all of the differences between golden retrievers and Irish Setters so that you can learn to tell them apart. We will also discuss their behavioral differences as well as why these dogs were originally bred in the first place. Let’s get started and learn all about these two dog breeds now! 

Comparing Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever
The average lifespan of the Irish Setter is longer than the lifespan of the average golden retriever.

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Irish SetterGolden Retriever
Size50-70 pounds; 23-27 inches tall55-75 pounds; 20-24 inches tall
AppearanceBeautiful long wavy coat in red or golden brown; long and floppy ears and hair hangs off of their long tailShiny and long silky coat in a yellow red, or white shade; floppy ears and luxurious fur
Originally Bred ForHunting dog activities and other sporting dog activitiesGun and hunting dog activities such as waterfowl retrieval 
BehaviorRambunctious and sweet with a lot of loyalty to their people; intelligent and trainable, but requires a lot of exercise and groomingIncredibly friendly and playful; needs an abundance of exercise and sheds frequently
Behavior12-15 years9-12 years

Key Differences Between Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever
Golden retrievers outweigh Irish Setters by 5 pounds on average, but Irish Setters are taller than golden retrievers.

There are many key differences between Irish Setters and golden retrievers. The average lifespan of the Irish Setter is longer than the lifespan of the average golden retriever. Golden retrievers outweigh Irish Setters by 5 pounds on average, but Irish Setters are taller than golden retrievers. Finally, the Irish Setter is more rambunctious and intelligent compared to the friendly and laid-back golden retriever.

Let’s discuss all of these differences in more detail now. 

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever: Size

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever
The Irish Setter is more rambunctious and intelligent compared to the friendly and laid-back golden retriever.

Kseniia Kolesnikova/Shutterstock.com

Both of these dogs are large dog breeds, but there are some vague differences in size between them. For example, golden retrievers weigh more than Irish Setters, but they are shorter in height and stature. This likely means that golden retrievers are not as slender compared to Irish Setters. Let’s go over these figures in more detail now.

The average Irish Setter weighs anywhere from 50 to 70 pounds depending on gender, and the average golden retriever weight is anywhere from 55 to 75 pounds. However, many Irish Setters often reach heights of 23 to 27 inches, while golden retrievers average 20 to 24 inches tall and rarely exceed 2 feet in height. 

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever: Appearance

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever
The average Irish Setter weighs anywhere from 50 to 70 pounds depending on gender, and the average golden retriever weight is anywhere from 55 to 75 pounds.

iStock.com/Tatyana Consaul

While it may take a moment to determine the differences in physical appearance of the Irish Setter and golden retriever, you can tell a few things right off the bat. For example, golden retrievers honor their namesake and only come in yellow, cream, and red shades, while Irish Setters are notoriously red or rusty brown in appearance. 

The ears of the Irish Setter are often longer than the ears of the golden retriever. While both of these dogs have long and silky fur that needs constant maintenance and grooming, the fur of the Irish Setter is longer than the fur of a golden retriever. In fact, an Irish Setter needs constant maintenance and care so that their fur does not mat or clump together, while golden retrievers do not often have this same issue. 

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever: Original Reason for Breeding

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever
The ears of the Irish Setter are often longer than the ears of the golden retriever.

Daniel V / Creative Commons

The original reason for the breeding of Irish Setters and golden retrievers is strikingly similar. Both of these dog breeds are hunting and gun dogs, though the golden retriever has an emphasis on waterfowl retrieval, while Irish Setters utilize their unique and powerful sense of smell to hunt other creatures. 

Nowadays, golden retrievers are laid-back and comfortable family companions, while Irish Setters are more often used for hunting, even to this day. Both dog breeds work well as companions for a variety of family units, though they will also both need ample exercise, especially when you consider their hunting dog backgrounds. 

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever: Behavior

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever
Nowadays, golden retrievers are laid-back and comfortable family companions, while Irish Setters are more often used for hunting, even to this day.

iStock.com/chendongshan

There are some subtle differences in the behaviors of the Irish Setter versus the behaviors of the golden retriever. While both of these dogs are extremely active and need a lot of exercise left they resort to separation anxiety and destructive activities, the golden retriever is more laid-back than the average Irish Setter. 

Both of these dog breeds are also extremely friendly and easygoing around kids and family members, though the Irish Setter is more rambunctious than the golden retriever overall. However, this makes the Irish Setter a hilarious and entertaining dog to have around, while the golden retriever is more likely to take a nap at the end of a hard day. 

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever: Lifespan

Irish Setter vs Golden Retriever
Both of these dog breeds are also extremely friendly and easygoing around kids and family members, though the Irish Setter is more rambunctious than the golden retriever overall.

iStock.com/Wavetop

The final difference between Irish Setters and golden retrievers has to do with their life spans. Irish Setters live longer than golden retrievers on average, especially since recent studies have shown that Golden Retriever lifespan is on the decline. However, both dog breeds are capable of living long and happy lives depending on their level of care in the home. 

Irish Setters live an average of 12 to 15 years, while golden retrievers live anywhere from 10 to 12 years. Of course, this ultimately depends on the exercise and dietary routines that these dogs have in their homes, as well as healthy breeding practices.

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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